Photo: Ratko Radojcic

Of the substantial chatter that surrounded the Rolling Stones "50 and Counting" tour, what was most often overheard was not that the British rockers were going strong over a half-century since forming. Instead, talk largely centered on the exorbitant ticket prices—upwards of $600 per seat—fans were expected to shell out to see four aging rockers and a team of adept backing musicians. The Stones' money-hungry ploy, it seemed, might derail their virtually unmatched victory lap.

Yet for as bloated a ticket price as the Stones were asking, fans in attendance on Friday night at the United Center, the second show in a three-night Chicago residency that wraps tonight, knew they were paying for a rock n' roll history lesson. The opportunity to see Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, drummer Charlie Watts and longtime guitarist Ron Wood live and in action—is nothing if not for a trip through the genre's greatest achievements. (A star-studded opening video drove this point home). Sure, the boys' chops aren't as tight as in their prime. But the Stones' musicianship and sheer physical prowess, on full display over a two-and-a-half-hour, hits-laden set, simply cannot be overstated. You can check out a slideshow of the show here.

"They call it the madhouse, right?" Jagger asked the crowd early in the evening. "You're gonna see how mad we all can get." The impossibly skinny frontman delivered on his promise: All evening Sir Mick, 69, was as loose and limber on his feet as one could hope, and served suitable counterbalance to Richards more characteristically laid-back bluesman swagger.

It was Wood and Watts, however—inarguably the less titanic names of the foursome—that flexed their old-man guns most prominently. Behind the kit, on extended run-throughs of live-rarity "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" and "Midnight Rambler," Watts, a mesmerizing cyclone of tenacity and power, anchored the load. Wood, a member of the Stones since the mid-Seventies, displayed a comparatively delicate touch, honing in on solos all evening, most notably on his stabbing outro to evening highlight "Gimme Shelter."

What low points existed were quick and fleeting: guest Sheryl Crow, long-legged and raspy-voiced, seemed unrehearsed when joining the band on "All Down The Line." Two new tunes, "Doom and Gloom" and "One More Shot," while of a piece tone-wise with the band’s classic material, were too short and uninspired.

"We've been coming to Chicago for a very long time. We keep coming back to see you," Jagger said toward show's end.

Take the singer's word, if you will. Or choose to believe the Rolling Stones are still itching for a paycheck they no longer need. Regardless, fifty years in, the band remains a ferocious and finely tuned unit, that continues to surprise, amaze and inspire.

Set list:
Get Off My Cloud
It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)
Paint It Black
Gimme Shelter
Shine a Light
Emotional Rescue
All Down the Line (feat. Sheryl Crow)
Doom and Gloom
One More Shot
Can’t You Hear Me Knocking (feat. Mick Taylor)
Honky Tonk Women
You Got the Silver
Midnight Rambler (feat. Mick Taylor)
Miss You
Start Me Up
Tumbling Dice
Brown Sugar
Sympathy For the Devil

You Can’t Always Get What You Want (feat. Roosevelt University Conservatory Chorus)
Jumping Jack Flash
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (feat. Mick Taylor)